Fraternity members given community service over death of Sanda Dia
26 May 2023
The Antwerp Court of Appeal has sentenced 18 members of a KU Leuven student fraternity to community service and a fine for their involvement in the death of 20-year-old Sanda Dia during a hazing ritual in December 2018.
The 18 members of the now-disbanded Reuzegom fraternity were acquitted of administering harmful substances and culpable negligence, but found guilty of unintentional killing, degrading treatment and breaches of animal welfare law. They were sentenced on Friday to community service of 200 to 300 hours and a 400 euro fine and must pay damages to the Dia family.
The prosecution had sought prison sentences ranging from 18 to 50 months and fines of up to 8,000 euros.
"We will never know. That is difficult for the family to deal with"
Sanda Dia died after a gruelling hazing ritual carried out by the Reuzegom. The trial relating to his death began before the correctional court in Hasselt but was halted in April last year. The chair had noted that she could not judge the entire ritual, but only the charges that pertained to the facts of 5 December 2018, the last phase of the multi-day ordeal.
The family’s lawyers and the prosecution disagreed and filed an appeal. The Antwerp court has now ruled that the Hasselt presiding judge’s ruling constituted a final decision.
The harmful substance referred to in the charges is fish oil, which Dia had been made to drink in large quantities in order to regurgitate a live goldfish he had had to swallow. The resulting salt overdose caused a fatal brain swelling.
During the trial, the family had hoped to find out who was responsible for administering the fish oil. “In the end, we got no answer because of the silence the boys maintained,” said lawyer Sven Mary, who represented Dia’s father and other relatives at the trial. “We will never know. That is difficult for the family to deal with.”
"Everything had to be stronger and tougher to live up to the image of the Reuzegom, with all the consequences that entailed"
“No one called a halt to the trial, or considered the possible consequences. That implied a lack of caution, which led to Sanda Dia’s death,” the court said in its ruling. “The defendants were blinded by previous initiation rituals and took for granted that fish oil should be used as an emetic, without questioning or stopping it. Everything had to be stronger and tougher to live up to the image of the Reuzegom, with all the consequences that entailed.”
Urinating on students who had lost consciousness after being forced to drink large amounts of alcohol, according to the court, falls under degrading treatment. During the ritual, the new members were also made to sit in a pit of ice-cold water, bite the head off an eel, swallow a live goldfish and put a mouse in a blender.
The members were all sentenced to 200 to 300 hours of community service and a fine of 400 euros. The community service sentence will not show up on their criminal record.
#FlandersNewsService | Lawyer Sven Mary and Sanda's father Ousmane Dia talk to the press following the sentencing © BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM